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Song of Songs 1:2

Hebrew: יִשָּׁקֵ֙נִי֙ מִנְּשִׁיקֹ֣ות פִּ֔יהוּ כִּֽי־טֹובִ֥ים דֹּדֶ֖יךָ מִיָּֽיִן׃

KJV: Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth: for thy love is better than wine.

LXX: φιλησάτω με ἀπὸ φιλημάτων στόματος αὐτοῦ, ὅτι ἀγαθοὶ μαστοί σου ὑπὲρ οἶνον

Brenton Septuagint Translation: Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth: for thy breasts are better than wine.

Why might the LXX translators have chosen to render דֹּדֶ֖יךָ as μαστοί σου, when this seems to be an inaccurate translation?

I have observed the following interesting points which might be "clues"

  • דֹּדֶ֖יךָ is gramatically plural (which is why Young's Literal Translation says "better are thy loves than wine.")
  • דּוֹד doesn't just mean "love." It can also mean "uncle" or "beloved".

What's interesting is that forms of דּוֹד appear throughout Song of Songs but the LXX doesn't always translate them in the same way. (compare 1:2 with 7:11, for instance)

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The consonantal text, דדיך, can be read דַּדַּיִך, from דַּד "nipple" (Ezekiel 23:3,8,21). This was the reading used in translating דדיך as μαστοί σου.

The meaning "beloved" is consistently spelled דּוֹד in Song of Songs. The lack of the letter ו in this and all other cases in the book (1:4, 4:10, 7:13) renders all of them ambiguous between "love" and "nipple."

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    And now I'm fascinated to learn how many other double entendres I'm missing in the Hebrew text. – chrylis Dec 30 '18 at 21:47
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    @chrylis The 'double meaning' of the whole of the Song of Solomon - the Song of Songs - is a matter of Christ and the church. Miss that, and one has missed everything. – Nigel J Dec 30 '18 at 23:03
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    Fascinating! So when it's spelled with a vav it's unambiguous, but when it's not it can be read either way? – Pascal's Wager Dec 31 '18 at 2:20
  • @Pascal'sWager With a vav (in singular or plural) it means "beloved," but not "love." Without a vav and in plural it can be either "love" or "nipples." This is just my observation from looking at a concordance for the entire book. It holds in some other places too, but elsewhere in the Bible, the homonym "uncle" is spelled inconsistently with/without vav – b a Dec 31 '18 at 9:21
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Pascal I have made the same observation and I was stunned to see how the LXX consistently translates דדיך to "breasts" rather than "love". However, the LXX in my opinion goes too far, and I cant help but think that the MT's version is superior than the LXX (in this particular instance). So while I agree that the term alone is ambiguous as @ba has pointed out, I think from the context it is pretty clear that it is to be translated as "love" and not "breasts". And I give my reasons below:

In 1:2 it is clearly the woman speaking (about her lover), so the LXX is forced to break up the verse in the middle - She: Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth. He: For thy breasts are better than wine. This makes the verse awkward and barely readable. Whereas according to the MT everything runs smoothly and the woman is just saying that his love is better than wine.

I think 7:12 makes no sense according to the LXX but reads smoothly according to the MT. This is the translation of the LXX:

Let us go early into the vineyards; let us see if the vine has flowered, the blossoms have appeared, if the pomegranates have blossomed; there will I give thee my breasts.

Breasts is not something you can give to your lover (If it means to let her lover kiss her breasts, it would still not be expressed in such a manner), whereas "love", like a kiss, is something you can give. I think this is compelling evidence that the LXX's choice of translation is inferior to the MT.

Furthermore, in the bible playing with an unmarried woman's breasts and nipples is considered a promiscuous act, the act of a whore (see Ezekiel 23:3). As the song is supposed to portray the perfect bride and groom and the paradigm of a loving relationship, it is hard to accept the LXX reading which suggests rather a licentious relationship.

The only place that the LXX readable is plausible is 4:10

How delightful is your love/are your breats, my sister, my bride! How much more pleasing is your love/are your breasts than wine, and the fragrance of your perfume more than any spice!

This is the only time that the LXX and MT versions are equally sustainable. So while the LXX reading is possible is some places, I think that it went too far by sticking to one reading and not acknowledging that there are other variant readings.

  • Interesting. I assumed that, at least in LXX 1:2, "thy breasts" refers to the bridegroom's breasts. – Pascal's Wager Apr 11 at 23:00
  • I don't believe that in biblical times a man's nipples was something to rave about, or that it was found attractive in men. See for example 5:10-16 in which the bride praises certain body parts of her lover, yet the nipples do not appear on the list! I think the burden of proof lies on the person who wants to suggest that the reference here is indeed about the lover's nipples. – Bach Apr 12 at 0:33
  • @ba I thought you might appreciate this tidbit. See AZ 29b discussion between R Ishmael and R Yehoshua, Rashi and Maharsha (35a) interpretation of it. Rashi seems a bit off, the Maharsha I think nails it! According to the latter, the discussion here is close to two thousand years old! It seems that the Jewish sages already grappled with the correct pronunciation of this verse. Excuse me for barraging you with all this, I just had to share this with you ;) – Bach Apr 14 at 1:19
  • I also saw a commentary say that Saadia's pronunciation/mesorah follows that of the LXX. I haven't had the time to research this claim, but it would be fascinating if it were true. – Bach Apr 14 at 1:25
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    @ba exactly! Actually I have seen all kinds of different versions scattered throughout. One has דדיך in both options, another has דודיך in both options. and yet one has דדיך in the first and דודיך in the second (this version actually supports maharsha interpretation). So as you can see, it is hard to know how the original looked like, so my guess is as good as anyones! – Bach Apr 14 at 23:46
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In the scriptures, many body parts are referred to as shorthand for the locus of various mental, emotional and volitional processes. In English we speak of the "heart" as the seat of "love"; however in Hebrew/Aramaic it seems to be that the "bosom" (the area between the shoulders) was where love, hate, passion etc. existed whereas the "heart" was where one's inner thoughts, counsel and even saving faith occurred.

Depending on the context it can refer to the affection you feel for your uncle or the passion you feel for your lover. The protagonist's sexual passion is undoubtedly aimed at Solomon, not her uncle.

Perhaps the LXX translators selected mastoi because they were trying to maintain "formal equivalence" in preference to "dynamic equivalence". They rendered the word literally and perhaps the Hebrew idiom did not translate so well by the time it got to English.

But the big danger here seems to take it either overly literal or under-literal. If we take it overly literal it just seems like she wanted physical stimulation. No doubt but we are to be more impressed by the strong attraction she has to this "love god", Solomon.

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